The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton
English | 2020 | Historical Fiction | ePUB | 2.4 MB
Originally from Florida, Chanel Cleeton grew up on stories of her family’s exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England where she earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master’s degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics & Political Science.
In 1935 three women are forever changed when one of the most powerful hurricanes in history barrels toward the Florida Keys.
For the tourists traveling on Henry Flagler’s legendary Overseas Railroad, Labor Day weekend is an opportunity to forget the economic depression gripping the nation. But one person’s paradise can be another’s prison, and Key West-native Helen Berner yearns to escape.
After the Cuban Revolution of 1933 leaves Mirta Perez’s family in a precarious position, she agrees to an arranged marriage with a notorious American. Following her wedding in Havana, Mirta arrives in the Keys on her honeymoon. While she can’t deny the growing attraction to her new husband, his illicit business interests may threaten not only her relationship, but her life.
Elizabeth Preston’s trip to Key West is a chance to save her once-wealthy family from their troubles after the Wall Street crash. Her quest takes her to the camps occupied by veterans of the Great War and pairs her with an unlikely ally on a treacherous hunt of his own.
Over the course of the holiday weekend, the women’s paths cross unexpectedly, and the danger swirling around them is matched only by the terrifying force of the deadly storm threatening the Keys.
At the corner of Trumbo Road and Caroline Street, I pass the railroad station as I have nearly every day for the past nine years. Beyond it lie the new docks. The Florida East Coast Car Ferry Company offers daily service to and from Havana, Cuba. They load dozens of freight cars onto the boats, taking them, cars, and passengers across the sea. Flagler’s vision of connecting New York City to Havana is made possible by a few days of travel on his railroad plus several hours’ ferry journey from Key West.
The familiar worn sign comes into view when I arrive in the parking lot of Ruby’s.
Our proximity to the railroad station and the ferry terminal inspires visitors, the locals attracted by the possibility to gawk at the newcomers and take advantage of Ruby’s low prices. Ruby doesn’t hold much with pretensions, and it shows, the decor simple, the food hearty. It’s the sort of place whose measure you take as soon as you walk through the doors, a restaurant that relies more on the food to recommend itself than the atmosphere.
We keep a steady pace of customers from the moment I arrive to midday, and I move from table to table, an ache settling in my back, the baby pressing down low. In the free moments when I’m able to sneak a break, I stand in the rear of the restaurant, leaning against the wall to relieve some of the pressure. The smells coming from the kitchen are nearly too much for my stomach, but at this point in the pregnancy, I’m so eager to take some weight off my feet it hardly matters.
The front door opens with a loud clang of the overhead bell, an awkward crash, the flimsy wooden structure no match for the large man whose hand rests on the handle. Heads turn, the noise rising above the sounds of the kitchen, the diners’ conversations. The newcomer’s cheeks redden slightly as he ambles through the door and gently guides it closed behind him.
I don’t have to look to know which table he’s taken. For the past several months, he’s become a regular fixture in the restaurant even as he keeps to himself and his corner. The only thing I know about him is his first name—John—and even that was offered reluctantly months ago.
“Your favorite customer is back,” Ruby says with a wink from her perch in the kitchen as she wipes her hands on the apron tied around her waist. As far as bosses go, Ruby and her husband are about as good as you can get. They pay a fair wage considering the times, and they have a tendency to keep an eye out for the staff from the kitchen they run. If a customer gets too friendly or too rowdy, Ruby and Max are always ready to swoop in. Ruby’s not exactly what you’d call sociable, and she’s content to keep to the cooking and leave the greeting and serving to me and the other waitress, Sandy, but over the years she’s become more than just my employer—a friend of sorts, I suppose.